Town Forest Spotlight: Norton Massachusetts

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The Gertrude E. Cornish Forest, known locally as just the “Town Forest,” and Lincoln Woods Conservation Area are two adjacent forests owned by the Town of Norton and commonly used by residents for walking, horseback riding, and by local scout groups for camping. Vernal pools scattered throughout the property host amphibian and reptile species, and other wildlife such as deer are abundant. Decades ago, these forests were actively managed for timber and contain areas with planted red pine trees. About 10 years ago, a winter moth (Operophtera brumata) caterpillar outbreak killed many of the large oaks on the forest resulting in fire and safety hazards. The town conservation agent, Jennifer Carlino, turned this unfortunate circumstance into an opportunity to resume forest management on the property. With help from a DCR Stewardship Grant in 2012, the town had a timber harvest on a few sections of the two properties to remove the dead wood and to thin the canopy of the pine stands to promote regeneration of native tree species and growth of commercially valuable timber.

                                                 

Jennifer and members of the open space committee worked hard to involve the community in the forest management and to communicate the reasons for and benefits of the project. Before the harvest began, the open space committee in the town wrote letters for press releases that we published in the local newspaper, they walked around with their forester and the local TV station to explain the project, wrote letters to the property owners of abutting properties and created fliers and posters explaining the project. The educational materials explained that forestry reduces safety hazards, provides opportunities for carbon storage, and creates space for young trees to grow and for mature trees to become more valuable. They compared forestry to gardening, a concept that most can relate to: “Thinking of the forest as a large garden, this selective harvest can be equated to pruning or weeding.”

                                      

Now, seven years after the timber harvest, young Eastern white pine and oak trees have grown into the gaps created by the thinning. When compared with similar areas that were not harvested, it is easy to see the benefits that this forest management project had on the remaining trees. The Town of Norton used the funds from the timber harvest to create long-term stewardship plans for the two forests that focus on forest health, wildlife, and timber. In the future, the town would like to continue managing the forest for native tree species and for timber which will provide an economic benefit for the town. Concurrently, the forests are still ripe with wildlife, beloved by the people of Norton and heavily used for recreation.